What does the destruction on a remote Virginia campus mean to me? Does it mean anything to me?
as ye are… willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all places…
Yet after turning on the radio this morning and hearing about the fourth story on the shooting rampage at a Virginia college, I unwittingly found myself inwardly saying “enough already! I heard you the first time. Can we move on please?” As students and faculty in Blacksburg Virginia hold candlelight vigils and join hands with strangers, I’ve seemingly already lost interest and am ready to move on with life. What’s going on here?
It’s not the first time this has happened. Years ago, the wreckage of the World Trade Center had barely settled before I was more or less over it and ready to move on with life. I remember riding in the car with my mother and my wife about one week after September 11th and remarking with irritation that they were still flying the flags at half mast. My wife looked disgusted with me, having put up with multiple gripes from me about the shallow patriotism fad sweeping the nation and inane news coverage kitsch. My mother lost no time in taking me to task for my insensitivity. She noted that I wasn’t allowing people time to grieve.
Rightly so. I wasn’t. And apparently, I still don’t.
The weird thing is, I’m actually a pretty empathetic person. I can’t even watch situational comedies because I internalize the embarrassment of the
characters on the screen so fully. It becomes literally painful for me to stay in the room. I tend to naturally reach out emotionally to those around me, even people I just met. So why do I get so ruthlessly businesslike in the face of tragedy?
I guess I just don’t have much patience for “emotional indulgence” (as I see it) when there’s work to be done and needs to be met.
Back in high school, when I was nearing the end of my swim team workouts one day, we all noticed a commotion at the other end of the pool. Apparently one of our classmates, a cute and cheerful girl on the diving team, had injured her neck during a particular dive. The coach was running over to assist the diving coach and the lifeguard was moving the girl into shallow water in order to immobilize her on an emergency “back board” to prevent further neck injury and possibly paralysis.
My teammates all gathered around staring to see what was happening. Some of the girls had their hands over their mouths in worry. I caught a glimpse of the injured girl on the backboard, now with a plastic collar around her neck. She looked scared with some tears running down her face.
The feelings of the moment, however, were completely lost on me. I was thinking about my own limited Red Cross training from a couple years ago. The main feeling I was feeling was annoyance with the mindless herd of onlookers who were crowding those giving first aid and simply getting in the way. I started busying myself telling my classmates to back-off and give them some room. I remember some of the girls giving me the same disgusted looks I got from my wife years later.
To this day, I think my own actions (however clumsily and tactlessly executed) were more constructive than those of my classmates. It seems that my first instinct in tragedy or misfortune is to ignore the tears and the shock and immediately look for solutions. Even as I was watching bodies falling from the twin towers in New York on the TV, all I could think about was how this event would change America’s foreign policy and alter the balance of global politics. Not even once did I feel the slightest bit “shocked” or “horrified.”
To this day, I’m not sure what to make of it. Am I just being practical? Or am I being heartless and uncaring? And what does it really mean to “mourn with those that mourn?”